No. 76 BIS. Athene Persica.* VIEILLOT.
THE PERSIAN OWLET, OR SOUTHERN LITTLE OWL.
Noctua Meridionalis, RISSE.
„ Glaux, SAVIGNY. Strix Noctua, FORSKAL.
„ Passerina, RUPPELL.
„ Numida, LEVAILLANT, Junr. (?) Athene Gymnopodus, HODGSON.
„ Bactriana, BLYTH.
Mr. Blyth says that this species " inhabits Middle and Western Asia, Southern Europe, and Africa, north of the Atlas ; and is common in Afghanistan, but does not enter the Indian sub-region, nor even the Himalayan province of the South Turanian sub-region, Mr. Hodgson's specimens having been obtained north of the snow."
As a matter of fact, however, I have now seen two specimens shot in the Peshawar valley. I have seen two more from Afghanistan, and have had in Col. Tytler's museum, the opportunity of comparing North African specimens of, apparently, the same bird, with Noctua of Europe.
Mr. Bree tells us that this species " is generally believed by naturalists to be only a pale variety of our little Owl Strix Noctua" but it appears to me, undoubtedly distinct from this latter species, though of course not so clearly so, as it is from A. Brahma.
The dimensions of Athene Persica (I have only seen skins) seem identical with those of Brahma, (the one I first saw, however, was much smaller) but in the general tone of colour, the size and character of the markings, and the distance to which the true feathers extend on to the feet, there are clearly appreciable differences. First, the colour, appears to be more rufous, in some specimens almost a dingy chestnut brown, far more rufous, in every case, than are 99 out of every 100 individuals of A. Brama, although I have seen somewhat rufous specimens of these latter from Barrackpore.
Secondly, the markings of the head are larger, longer and more pear-shaped, the spots on the wing coverts and scapulars are much larger, the bars on the tail are broader and less perfect, more like broad double spots, and the markings of the under part are much more blotchy and streaky. In Brama the whole feet and toes are clad in bristle-like feathers, in Persica only the toes, the feet being covered with true feathers like the tarsi, and even the toe bristles being somewhat more featherlike than in Brama.
Noctua, no doubt is very close to Persica, closer than the latter to Brama, but it is browner and less rufous (while Brama is greyer) and the spots on the head and nape (and elsewhere) are still longer aud larger, and even the toes, may be more properly said to be feathered than bristled.
In Candahar, Capt. Hutton tells us that it is common amongst the rocks and ruins. In India it occurs, probably as a mere straggler, only on our extreme North Western frontier. In Egypt, Mr. Taylor tells us (Ibis, 1867) that it is " very abundant, and equally at home, in town, and country. Breeds in March. Flies freely and well in broad day-light. Differs very little from the A. Noctua of Europe."
* ATHENE PERSICA.
I have unfortunately no detailed measurements of this species. The following is a note which I made from one of the Swat specimens ; unfortunately at the time, I did not know what the bird was. " It appears to be about 6.76 or 7 long. Wing, 5.0. Tail, 2.5. Tarsus, 0.9. Feet feathered not completely so it is true, but far more so than in Brama, than which it is much smaller. The whole upper surface, a dingy rufous ashy brown, much the same colour as in some specimens of Ninox Scutellatus. There are numerous greyish white blotches on the head, nape and base of the back of the neck. The tail has three, conspicuous, narrow, transverse, greyish white bands visible, with a fourth nearly hidden by the upper tail coverts. The chin, cheeks, ear coverts, middle of throat, upper breast, lower abdomen, breast and lower tail coverts, dingy fulvous white, unspotted. The sides of the neck, lower breast, upper abdomen, sides and flanks, and tarsal plumes a more rufous white, with numerous, irregular, central streaks and blotches of a rufous brown brighter than the upper parts, and some of the breast feathers with imperfect sub-terminal bands."
Mr. Blyth described this species under the name of Bactrianus in the J. A. S. for 1847, from one of Capt. Hutton's Candahar specimens, as follows, his dimensions, it will be observed, are much greater than those of the bird I first saw.
"Length about nine inches, of wing, 6.25, and tail, 3.5 inches. Tarsi, 1.25 inch. Plumage of the upper parts somewhat rufescent clay brown, with large, round, white spots on the feathers, more or less concealed, and wholly so on those of the middle of the back: coronal feathers with medial whitish streaks : face white ; some of the radiating feathers on the sides of the beak, terminating in the black vibrissa ; chin, throat, lower tail coverts, and the tibial and tarsal plumes, white, also the fore-part of the under-surface of the wing; a longitudinal broad streak on each feather of the breast and abdomen; on the hind neck, the white so predominates upon the feathers as to give the appearance of a half collar. The great wing feathers have broad incomplete pale bands, disposed alternately on their two webs; and the middle tail feathers have a double row of some alternating pale spots, passing into dull bands on the outer tail feathers: beak (in the dry specimen) whitish; and claws pale horn colour.